Friday, June 15, 2012

Sam Walker

Samuel Walker is Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he taught from 1974 to 2005. He is a widely quoted expert on issues of civil liberties, policing and criminal justice policy.

He is also a record collector, with about 9,000 albums at present; he had an exhibit of jazz album covers in early 2011 featuring the art work of David Stone Martin.

Walker's new book is Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama: A Story of Poor Custodians.

Last month I asked the author what he was reading.  His reply:
How many books send you running to your collection of old LPs? Greil Marcus, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll has done that to me lately. First published in 1975 and now in its 5th edition (2008), the book is a rich and imaginative exploration of American history and culture through our popular music: rock, blues, folk, gospel, jazz, and just about everything else. It is as fascinating and provocative today as it was 37 years ago when I devoured the 1st edition.

You might have heard about Robert Johnson, and you may have some CDs by The Band, Randy Newman, and of course Elvis. But you probably haven’t heard about Harmonica Frank, and the section on him that opens the book covers Melville’s Ahab, Huck Finn, Lyndon Johnson, Chuck Berry, Norman Mailer, and, oh yes, America. It’s that kind of a book.

As a record collector, with about 9,000 LPs at the moment, Marcus’s “Notes and Discographies” section is especially illuminating. He has not rested on his laurels. In the 2nd edition (my copy of the 1st is buried in some a stack of books), the main text is 212 pages, and the Notes section 90 pages. The 177 pages of text in 5th edition are exceeded by the 191 pages of Notes. The 36 pages of text and 8 pages of Notes (2nd edition) on “The Myth of Staggerlee” is a typical Marcus-style exploration of the song, its many variations, the disputed real life events that inspired variations of the song, and black music, culture and politics over several decades. And as he did 37 years ago, Marcus helps me to hear themes in some The Band songs I had not really appreciated before (and to reaffirm my disagreement with him on some others.

The Notes are also driving me to Kanesville, my favorite used record store across the river in Council Bluffs, to pick up albums I don’t yet but simply must have. Yes, the book does that to you.
Visit Samuel Walker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue